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Garnaut issues climate change wake-up call to Australia

Kerry O’Brien, Australian Broadcasting Corporation
Economist Ross Garnaut’s study on the effects of climate change has warned Australia could be the biggest loser among developed nations if nothing is done to reduce greenhouse gas emissions.


KERRY O’BRIEN: First tonight, the blunt warning from the man commissioned by Labor to review what Australia needs to do with climate change policy. Professor Ross Garnaut says Australia potentially is the biggest loser if global solutions aren’t found quickly for problems that he says are even worse than the most recent scientific predictions.

Releasing the first interim report of his major greenhouse review, Professor Garnaut has flagged the need to go way beyond Prime Minister Kevin Rudd’s election promise of a 60 per cent cut in greenhouse emissions by 2050. The Garnaut Review talks of global cuts in emissions of at least 90 per cent by 2050 to have even a 50-50 chance of containing the damage.

But Professor Garnaut says it’s possible to dramatically change Australia’s energy landscape with minimum pain. I spoke with the eminent economist from Adelaide earlier tonight.

Ross Garnaut, you’ve said that the real picture on climate change is now much worse than the most recent UN scientific reports which I guess were bad enough. How much worse?

ROSS GARNAUT, CLIMATE CHANGE ECONOMIST: Well, there’s two ways in which it’s worse Kerry. One is that the outcomes are at the bad end of what the science said was going to happen. There was a range of possibilities and the worst ones seem to be coming through in a lot of areas. But more worringly for the future, the ongoing rate of emissions growth is much stronger than had been anticipated.

KERRY O’BRIEN: You’ve also said that Australia could be the biggest loser of all the developed countries. How important is it for Australia that the global temperature increase is limited to two degrees above pre-industrial levels?

ROSS GARNAUT: Well, you can’t put a special value on two degrees, but two degrees is a number that a lot of people have settled on as a boundary beyond which things get more dangerous. But even at two degrees there’s significant damage and the further you go beyond that, the greater the risks.
(21 February 2008)
Contributor Lionel Orford writes: “a landmark article.”

Dire new warning on climate

Penelope Debelle, The Age
RECENT work by scientists suggests climate change is advancing more rapidly and more dangerously than previously thought, according to Canberra’s top adviser on the issue.

In a dire warning to the Rudd Government, Ross Garnaut has declared that existing targets for cuts in greenhouse emissions may be too modest and too late to halt environmentally damaging rises in temperature.

On the eve of the release today of his interim report on climate change, Professor Garnaut told a conference in Adelaide yesterday that without intervention before 2020, it would be impossible to avoid a high risk of dangerous climate change. “The show will be over,” he said.
(21 February 2008)
Comment by Alex Steffen at WorldChanging: Who Will Tell the People? And How?

Fire and Rain: The Consequences of Changing Climate on Rainfall, Wildfire and Agriculture

Doug Fir (pseudonym), The Oil Drum
The consequences of climate change are often presented in the media as coastal flooding after the melt of Greenland or Antarctic ice. That is the headline most often seen, however the real problems will be much more extensive. I’d like to look at some of those problems, in particular those of wildfire and agriculture, and provide a little background to better illustrate their severity.


One of the more dramatic effects will be the increase in the number, size and severity of wildland fires, of which we recently had a taste in California. “I think we can demonstrate higher severity, larger fires and certainly over the last seven to eight years, more frequent fires and a longer fire season,” noted Abigail Kimbell, chief of the U.S. Forest Service. Fire is a natural process, releasing carbon compounds and bound nutrients, usually contributing to the health of an ecosystem in the less intense fires. Ponderosa pine, a major species in much of the west, is classed as fire tolerant, needing light fire to open the seed cones. However, climate change, compounded by years of fire suppression leaving elevated fuel loads, has set the stage for megafires. Steven Pyne, in his book Worldfire, notes four items in his prescription for large fires-abundant fuel and ignition, drought, and wind. Climate change, by changing precipitation pattern intensity and temporal distributions, will provide these.

Guest post by TOD reader Doug Fir. ‘Doug’ graduated in the 70’s with a BS and a MS in Fisheries, Forestry, and Agriculture. Presently, he and his family work a small hay, timber and livestock operation.
(21 February 2008)

Risk Of Permafrost Thaw A “Wild Card” In Warming – UN

Reuters via Planet Ark
MONACO – A thaw of Arctic permafrost is a “wild card” that could stoke global warming by releasing vast frozen stores of greenhouse gases, the UN Environment Programme (UNEP) said on Wednesday.

More research was urgently needed into the possibility of a runaway release of methane, a powerful heat-trapping gas trapped in frozen soils in Siberia, Canada, Alaska and Nordic nations, it said in a 2008 yearbook issued at 154-nation talks in Monaco.

“The unknowns about the amount and rate of methane release from the thawing Arctic makes it a wild card when considering climate change risks,” UNEP head Achim Steiner said in an annual report with a special section on Arctic methane.

UNEP said that global methane emissions from all sources, both natural and caused by human activities, were estimated at 500-600 million tonnes a year. A quarter to a third was emitted from the wet Arctic soils, where microbes produce methane.

Arctic methane emissions were projected to at least double during the 21st century, partly because of an increase in wetlands caused by thawing of permafrost, it said.
(21 February 2008)